Vincent Capodanno was born on February 13th, 1929, in Staten Island, New York. After attending a year at Fordham University, young Vincent Capodanno entered the Maryknoll seminary in 1949, and was ordained in 1958. After ordination, Father Capodanno was assigned to work with aboriginal Taiwanese in the mountains of Taiwan where he served in a parish and later in a school. After seven years, Father Capodanno returned to the United States for leave and then was assigned to a Maryknoll school in Hong Kong.
Looking for a different challenge, Father Capodanno requested a new assignment–as a United States Navy Chaplain serving with the U.S. Marines. After finishing officer candidate’s school, Father Capodanno reported to the 7th Marines, in Vietnam, in 1966.
When his tour was complete, he requested an extension, served in the naval hospital and then reported to the 5th Marines. He gained a reputation for always being there–for always taking care of his Marines.
On September 4th, 1967 , in the Thang Binh District of the Que-Son Valley, elements of the 1st Battalion, 5th Marines found the large North Vietnamese Unit, approx. 2500 men, near the village of Dong Son. Operation Swift was underway. The out-numbered and disorganized Company D was in need of reinforcements. By 9:14 am, twenty-six Marines were confirmed dead. The situation was in doubt and another Company of Marines was committed to the battle. At 9:25 am, the 1st Battalion 5th Marine Commander requested assistance of two company’s of the 3rd Battalion 5th Marines, “M”and “K” Company.During those early hours, Chaplain Capodanno received word of the battle taking place. He sat in on the morning briefing at the 3rd Battalion’s Combat Operations Center. He took notes and listened to the radio reports coming in. As the elements of Company “M” and “K” prepared to load the helicopters. “Fr.Vince” requested to go with them. His Marines needed him. “It’s not going to be easy” he stated. As Company “M” approached the small village of Chau Lam, the North Vietnamese opened up on the 2nd Platoon, which was caught on a small knoll, out in the open. The fighting was fierce, hand to hand at times, and the platoon was in danger of being overrun. Father Capodanno went among the wounded and dying, giving last rites and taking care of his Marines. Wounded once in the face and suffering another wound that almost severed his hand, Father Capodanno moved to help a wounded corpsman only yards from an enemy machinegun. Father Capodanno died taking care of one of his men. On December 27, 1968, then Secretary of the Navy Paul Ignatius notified the Capodanno family that Fr. Vincent would posthumously be awarded the Medal of Honor in recognition of his selfless sacrifice. The offical ceremony was held January 7, 1969. On May 21, 2006, thirty-nine years after his death on the battlefield of Vietnam, Capodanno was publicly declared Servant of God, the first step towards canonization. This year, Maryknoll celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of Father Capodanno’s death on September 4, 2017.
Father Capodanno’s inspiration and dedication to “his” Marines goes much further. His story continues even today.